May 26th, 2012 - Rahma O. Jimoh
The May weather had just begun to spread its palms on our cheeks. The day was bright, save for the dark clouds gathering in the sky. It was after break and students could be seen strutting into their classes to avoid the Principal's cane.
Every Wednesday, after the short break, my class, JSS 3A, has a free period. Free periods were one of the best times for my friends and me. And that day was, even more, a special one. It was Tope's birthday and we were already unwrapping gifts before the heart-wrenching news came in. We were six smart friends; all females and the whizkids of our class. We would have been seven and with a male but Ebube left our school the previous session.
We called ourselves RELTEN —an acronym formed from our names; Rahma, Esther, Latifat, Tope, Eniola and Nofisat. We sat three by three on the two last desks of the class. Only Esther and Eniola were tall and should sit at the back but our choice was an act of rebellion. We hated that the back seats in class were attached to dull and unserious students. Esther, my best friend, was a mathematician. Latifat who was in JSS1C because she resumed late was moved to JSS2A at the end of the term because of her exceptional performance. Eniola attended the same school for her primary education and that automatically made her the class captain which gave us privileges. Nafisa was one of the most beautiful girls in our set, she was equally brilliant and that drove attention to our clique. Temitope was a leader, smart, intelligent and kind. Both of us always had the best results in the English Language. Our clique was fierce.
And untouchable. With two Edo girls amidst us, the class captain and three other teachers' favourites. However, we were easygoing and stayed clear of troubles. Sometimes, I think we were too serious with life at that age. Perhaps it was the books we read. We had this powerful aura that made not just our classmates and seniors respect and fear us, but also our teachers. No one wanted to cross our boundaries, they'd rather make friends with us. We were weird too. We wouldn't attend school parties or play during breaks, we would rather be seen reading and exchanging novels or writing quotes. As time went on, our teachers stole our break periods by sending us on errands.
However, we had fun with the little things like studying together for exams, the games we played, the novels we exchanged and competing over who reads faster. Most important was the sincere friendship, love and unity we shared. We each had a book we called "Book Of Wisdom" where we wrote down quotes, poems, and any wise saying we came across. Much later in senior secondary school, before we each owned smartphones, we wrote letters to one another as we had less time to talk in different departments.
We shared grief too.
It was Wednesday. And Temitope's birthday. Tope and I have so many things in common; our houses were the farthest from school, her church was a street away from my home so we saw each other during weekends, we shared the name 'Temitope' and we were both the fair-skinned girls in our clique. The most special thing we shared is our birth month. Unfortunately, it would be a reminder of grief too. But in every speck of grief lies lessons and light at the end of the tunnel. The incident leaves us to reflect on every first day of our birth month, also on May 08 and May 23rd, my birth date. I always ask myself, "What if it was you, Rahma?"
After the short break that day, our class was noisy and a teacher instructed us to lay our heads on our desks. It was an opportunity to celebrate with our friends. The six of us quietly raised our heads and started sharing the gifts bought for her. She brought sweets and cabin biscuits her dad gave her the day before when he dropped her off at school. He would not be around on her birthday because he was travelling to visit her grandma in Aiyetoro. I kept mine in my bag hoping to eat it as soon as I got home ignorant of what the payday holds
We were almost done with our gifts when Mr Kingsley walked in, he was the school receptionist. Scared he had caught us violating the punishment, we placed our heads on the table but he walked up to us and called, "Temitope," we all raised our heads. He motioned for her to follow him disregarding us. We were scared. Was he going to punish her because it was her birthday we had violated the punishment for?
Temitope soon returned to pick up her bag. She told us it was her aunt who came to pick her up. She was going home. She has to go home. When she left, Mr Kingsley came into our class, instructed us to raise our heads and started a long talk while looking straight ahead at our clique.
"Sometimes things happen in life that we have no power on…," he began.
"Your friend and classmate, Temitope, has lost her dad to a car accident."
I could not understand. It was her birthday for crying out loud. I've been told life was cruel but that news was beyond it for me. I've heard of deaths. I've lost a sister, a neighbour, and an uncle but not this way. How was Tope supposed to continue living happily?
The next day, when her father's body was lowered into the earth. We wept again, we who were supposed to console Tope were inconsolable. She was her father's only daughter and last child. Her dad was our dad, he has recently ordained a pastor and would always pray for us and give us money anytime, every time. Why did he have to depart the world on his only daughter's twelfth birthday? Her grandma died in the accident too. The driver survived.
Every year after, we spend the fifth month with heavy hearts. Sometimes we don't know how to carry the feelings in our hearts. How do you smile when you're struggling to swallow back tears? Tope in her grief would still say "Sometimes, God allow these things to teach us certain wisdom. Sometimes it's for us to relate and experience what others pass through."
She would go on saying, "God is unquestionable and although it was painful, I see it as a coincidence. God takes people away from their loved ones for different reasons. To know God is important in overcoming life's hurdles. My father's death is not the end of the world for me. Death is an inescapable part of life and sometimes a pathway for us to become who we are meant to be. We should never allow grief to ruin our lives. Always, holding God, holding on to hope is the key to scaling life's hurdles."
And it gladdens my heart that although the day is forever engraved on our hearts like a permanent scar that cannot be erased. Tope scaled through grief to become gold. She unlearned grief and relearned joy on her birthdays.
Rahma O. Jimoh is a creative writer, photog and journalist. A 2021 Hues Foundation scholar and 2020 Pushcart Prize Nominee. She is a lover of sunsets and monuments and has been published or forthcoming in Isele Magazine, Lucent Dreaming, Olongo Africa, Blue Marble Review, Native Skin, Agbowo & others. She edits Poetry at Olumo Review and Edited the 2022 Artmosterrific Chapbook.
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